Review – Les Mills Combat

Previous to a few years ago I had not been much interested in any of the Martial Arts – that was until I started doing P90X (see my review of P90X vs Insanity vs P90X2 vs T25 vs P90CX3 here).  I found Kenpo X (or Kempo, depending on who you are – Wikipedia entry for more info) to be fun, interesting, and a hell of a lot of great exercise moves all rolled into one fun but hard hour-long routine (as I got healthier and in better shape it wasn’t so much hard any more, but still good exercise and fun).  I believe that I’ve done that disc the most out of any in the P90X series or any other series.  I know it by heart; I can do it muted, I can do it when I’m not paying attention and my body just takes over, I can do it with modified moves if I have a tweak somewhere, I can make it as hard or as easy as I wish.

So after I started doing P90X Kenpo X I found myself with a slightly increased interest in Martial Arts.  I was disappointed when P90x2 did not have any sort of Martial Arts whatsoever and was thrilled when the P90X3 series did – this time a Mixed Martial Arts workout of half an hour.  It is hard, and I love it.  And it’s a good thing it’s not an hour long!

When I got the chance to try Les Mills Combat I couldn’t pass it up, and I was excited to give this series a spin.

Now here is where I was going to post a pic of Les Mills but it’s rather hard to find one of him, though here’s one of him on a link on the Less Mills website (Les Mills Senior, third photo over).

Les Mills is an athlete from New Zealand who competed in the Olympics and later in life started a chain of gyms in New Zealand.  His son created a series of exercise programs in the 80’s in his father’s honor, all done with music.  This series became pretty successful and was licensed all over the world and Les Mills BodyCombat was one of those series of programs, this one centered around Martial Arts training.

The Les Mills Combat DVD workout series is based on this.  These are led by Les Mills Combat certified Dan Cohen and Rachel (Rach) Newsham (who are also very experienced Martial Arts outside of the Les Mills program).  In addition to the two lead trainers it also has other multinational trainers from Les Mills Combat from all over the world doing the moves with them, one always as a modifier throughout.   Occasionally one of these other trainers steps in for a bit of variety.

While Les Mills Combat is not geared particularly to either sex, Rach and Dan nonetheless do a good job of a little ‘girl vs. boy’ talk without it being too over the top.

As with the in-person series of Les Mills BodyCombat, music is an integral part and this disc set is no exception.  You don’t necessarily keep in time to the music (but you can, especially on some of the routines), but it’s an important motivator and key component.  You’ll hear variations of different kinds of music – from pop to a little harder, classic to modern hip hop.

There’s three versions of this series –

checkmarkThe basic Les Mills Combat kit has seven workouts, a fitness guide, an ‘eat right for the fight’ nutrition guide, a tape measure and a measurement tracker, and the 60 day workout calendars.

checkmarkThe Supreme Warrior Kit has everything the basic one has as well as training gloves.

checkmarkThe Ultimate Warrior kit has everything from the above two and in addition has four more workouts included.

The fitness guide has the three-sixty day workout programs (depending on what you are looking to do), the Combat Warrior Calendar, the more intense Supreme Warrior Calendar, or the extreme Ultimate Warrior kitCalendar and some tips and other info on the trainers and such.

The nutrition guide has various plans to get you going, again depending on what you are looking to do.

The tape measure of course allows you to check your progress and the tracker allows you to keep a record of it.  If you’re losing weight it can be a better indicator to use a tape measure than a scale, but you do have to measure in consistent locations on your body.

The sixty-minute minute live version (depending on which version of the series you got) as well as the sixty-minute non-live DVD are the only routines that are that length, with the forty-five minute coming in second in length. Everything else is around a half hour with the exception of the stretch and strength disc.

I originally thought this was going to be ALL martial arts. But it’s not, it’s a full workout for the whole body, concentrating on martial arts but also including weight training, body weight training, plyometrics, and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) – sometimes all mixed in together.  You also get a twenty minute stretch routine that will combine stretching, maybe a little yoga, and some Tai Chi (here’s a good reference on the history and other information about Tai Chi).  Here’s a quick run down of each routine.

bullet2“The Basics” – This is the DVD you want to view first, and you may not have to use it again, though you may find yourself referring to it once in a while as needed.  This disc gives you intros and proper Martial Arts techniques for each basic move, nice especially if you are not used to Martial Arts.  You really probably want to watch “The Basics” DVD and not skip it unless you have some real experience in Martial Arts previously, and even then it might be a good refresher.  It’s a great introduction to the moves, giving you proper form and some tips and tricks on how to get the most out of each move  – both exercise-wise as well as, well; if you really want to put some power into each move.  You get to know Dan and Rachel a bit too as you watch and follow along.  About 30 minutes.

bullet2“Combat 30: Kick Start” – About 30 minutes long also, and is the beginner martial-arts specific DVD without a lot of complex moves but with lots of action, concentrating on things like keeping the core tight.  Good for starting out, good for filling in when you also do a separate shorter one or something from another series, or if you don’t have too much time on a particular day.  There is a live version too, lots of fun, shot in Bristol, UK.

bullet2“Combat 45 Power Kata”  – Around 45 minutes.  This is a good intermediate one, with some speed and more advanced sequences and moves, a little cross-training near the end.  You start out slow and then work up in intensity.  A ‘Kata‘ is a Japanese word, and are the “detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs” according to Wikipedia – which explains this DVD quite well.

bullet2“Combat 60 Extreme Cardio Fighter” – About 60 minutes.  This is what they call their hardest combat session and I imagine you’re going to love it, as I did; if you enjoy this series.  There’s a lot of repetitions here to work on so you get plenty of chances to learn the sequences of moves, and when you do you will find yourself concentrating less on doing them properly and more and putting some power into them.  As well as giving you an intense workout.  Personally I think the lower body DVD is harder, but that’s just my opinion.  From a pure enjoyment perspective I love this one.  The 60 is excellent, with a mixture of all kinds of different moves, some combos to learn, and on this disc two of the other trainers go front-stage for a bit.  You’ll find yourself doing the moves to the music, even if  you don’t normally follow the beat when doing any of these.  You’ll end up with some short ab work in the form of a couple of variations of push ups and other ab-related exercises.

There is also the Live version, shot in Bristol, UK and called Ultimate Warrior’s Workout, which takes place in front of a large group of others doing all the moves in (mostly) unison. With this Live version of Combat 60 you may even ‘feel’ the added energy of the crowd, both as you watch and do it as well as in how the trainers present the moves.  You’ll see a mixture of people in the audience participation here, and though all seem to be in good shape you may see an occasional person who is not quite as trim as the others.  I originally assumed that the live versions of Combat 60 and Combat 30 had exact duplicate moves as the non-live versions, but they do have occasional somewhat different routines in each, and also are just as much fun I believe.

This is an intense one, one of my favs.  Not as hard as P90X3 MMX, which is the hardest Martial Arts one I have done – but it is very very good.

bullet2Core Attack –  18 Minutes.  One of the shorter ones, as well it should be.  As you would guess this includes exercises that isolate and target the abs.  Nicely hard.  You’ll do variations of the core exercises you probably already know like Bridge, Crunches (with hands at the temples to make sure you don’t pull on your neck), V-Up’s, Mountain Climbers, etc and with modifications if needed, and probably do some new things too that you may not have seen before.  Some good instructions here on form from the trainers as this disc is a bit less frenetic than some of the other discs in this series.  You use light weights here a few times, though they are optional.  Do you like Ab Ripper X from P90X?  This is harder, and maybe pinpoints some areas that aren’t in some other series’ workouts, like the lower back area. This is part of the Ultimate Warrior Kit.

bullet2Stretch and Strength – This one is only about 18 minutes long but it is a fun, and very slow-moving and relaxed (and relaxing) mixture of mild stretching and martial arts strength and flexibility training, a little Yoga, and lots of intro to Tai Chi.  If you want more stretching look elsewhere though.  This one is also part of the Ultimate Warrior Kit.

bullet2Power HIIT 1 and Shock Plyo HIIT 2 – Around 30 minutes each.  Some really good HIIT here, packed into a short time span.  Use weights in the Power HIIT 1 optionally.  Even the guys in the video tone it down in this one as they work their rears off.  In Shock Plyo HIIT 2 you’ll find a good amount of plyo with squats, lunges, jumps, and good ol’ Burpees among lots more.  This is a high intensity yet low impact plyo – good for the knees.  Lots of repeated sequences and reps, and it’s nice to learn the moves and concentrate on doing them with intensity.

bullet2Upper Body Blow Out – About 20 minutes.  You use weights for most of this one, and you definitely will feel this one with the reps and weights, but you really don’t need much weight (unless you are Dan).  In this one Dan is very, very pumped up to do it and ready to kick you in the rear, which he does.  Weights and cardio – what else do you need to know but that it is hard?  A little bit of ab and related lower body near the end.  This is part of the Ultimate Warrior Kit.

bullet2Lower Body Lean Out.  24 minutes.  Rachel takes over in this one with a good mixture of Martial Arts (lots of kicks) and cardio, and other general lower body exercises, like some plyo here and there.  A real nicely intense cardio-wise, with a bit of ab work, one of my favorites and possibly the hardest for me personally.  Or maybe it is only the hardest for me because I love this one and really push myself every time I do it.  This is part of the Ultimate Warrior Kit.

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You're going to sweat!

You’re going to sweat!

Like most exercise series many of these start out with some dynamic exercises that help to loosen you up, go into some more static stretching at some point, and then into the exercise routines.  These are usually split up into sections, with just a few seconds of pause between.  No long rests here like in P90X.

There is a bit of a learning curve on some of the sequences of moves but there’s usually enough repetition so that you can learn them fairly quickly.  If you are not a very coordinated person you may find yourself stumbling on some or not keeping good form – just something you have to work on and these will help you with things like that, including balance.  For a little something extra you can wear weighted exercise gloves.

Would this be good for those just starting out in fitness and exercise DVD’s?  Yes, there’s always a modifier at the very least and of course the discs can be paused if you need a rest.  And the Combat 30 (or Kata 45) can be repeated a bit more than the workout calendar shows if a person needed to work up to some of the more intense ones.

You can also mix/hybridize this series with other’s – whether in the Les Mills series, other Beachbody series, or something else.  This is good not only if you are starting out but if you want to work on other areas of your body and fitness that this series might not target well or that you want to concentrate on.  Or just to mix it up.  And of course you can do more than one disc in this series in one day, many are short enough to – as you can see in the sweaty action in my photo to the left, we did the “Upper Body Blow Out” and then the “Lower Body Lean Out”.  Oh, you will sweat with those two back-to-back!

The one thing that I don’t particularly like about this series is that occasionally you’ll hear one of the trainers mention that you may puke or something like that, in a casual sort of way.  I think that this isn’t healthy, nor should it be encouraged or accepted.  Puking’s not good for you in general, and you shouldn’t be doing this until you are so overworked and sick that you feel that you are going to puke (though you certainly don’t want to eat right before hand, or drink TOO much either).  It also takes the enjoyment out of it if you are feeling like you are going to hurl.  I think if you feel that way, or find your heart rate is way through the roof or you are just too worn out then you probably want to take a break, pause it, slow down, modify the moves at least for a bit or stop it and do something else.  But don’t do it until you puke – some reasons why not.

The majority of this series is derived from various kinds of Martial Arts.  I especially enjoyed when the trainers explained which of the Martial Arts that a particular move or routine that they were doing originated from, whether it was Boxing, KickboxingTaekwondo, Muay Thai, Tai Chi, Karate, Capoeira, Kung-Fu, Jujutsu, etc. Of course, I’m no Martial Arts expert nor do I know very much about it.  So maybe those who have done any of the Martial Arts for years might think it sucks.

[pullquote]I especially enjoyed when the trainers explained which of the Martial Arts that a particular move or routine that they were doing originated from, whether it was Boxing, KickboxingTaekwondo, Muay Thai, Tai Chi, Karate, Capoeira, Kung-Fu, Jujutsu, etc.[/pullquote]

I don’t know, but do I care?  No, because I got a lot of great exercise out of this and I think others will too.  These guys obviously know what they are doing, even though sometimes their enthusiasm may be a bit over-the-top and overly enthusiastic, too kitschy motivational, even hokey.  At first I felt that Rachel and Dan were fine but then I became a bit annoyed as I repeated the series, but as time went by I came full circle and now I don’t mind them one bit.  I take them as they are; people who are highly trained, used to working on the combat program and must keep up the energy and talking to help motivate people.  When you see them singing along (badly but happily) to some of the music and enjoying themselves and what they are doing – well, it shows that Rach, Dan, and the rest of the trainers really do love and enjoy the whole thing.

So, if you want a good workout you’ll find this series covers a little bit of a number of things with a Martial Arts flavor in each and every workout.  You’ll sweat, you’ll probably lose a little weight, gain some muscle and flexibility, and probably enjoy yourself quite thoroughly.  While Rach and Dan may annoy you a bit with their bubbly enthusiasm I think you’ll see that they really enjoy what they are doing and want to get people to enjoy it and be healthier also, and they’ll do a good job of making sure you keep going as well as do the moves correctly and safely.

Give the Les Mills Combat series a try, I think you’ll like it – even if you aren’t a bit fan of the Martial Arts.

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